Yahoo wants to make everything location aware

Fire Eagle makes it easier to share GPS data between apps

Yahoo Fire Eagle

Perhaps the most ambitious project at Yahoo is one that seeks to take GPS data and make it more widely available between your mobile phone, desktop, and even in your car. What's more, any app will be able to tap into this information – with your permission, of course.

Yahoo Fire Eagle's Project Lead, Tom Coates, answered some questions about how the Fire Eagle project works.

TechRadar: How does Fire Eagle work technically?

Tom Coates: The idea behind Yahoo Fire Eagle is that lots of services could get better or more interesting if they could respond to your location. Fire Eagle is about helping you capture your location and sharing it with those services.

It's the control panel that gives you control about when, where and how much (city, state, exact point) information you share. Technically, Fire Eagle connects with these other services through the OAuth standard.

A site will ask Fire Eagle if it can get or update your location, you say yes or no, and how much you're prepared to share, and from then on that site can get access to your location through our web APIs. You can revoke that permission at any time.

TR: How could the idea be expanded - what is the potential?

TC: Fire Eagle is about bringing your location - with your permission and at any level of accuracy you want - to the web. You can update it once, from a phone or a website or wherever really, and then that information goes wherever you want it to.

At the simple end that could be showing the neighbourhood you're in on your blog, or sharing your location with Facebook so that your friends can see where you are, or someone could build an app that showed you your progress on runs, or plotted where you were as you were travelling around the world.

You don't have to share your location in public obviously - you could just use it so that when you went to a search engine it showed you results from around the area you're in right now.

Another interesting thing you could do would be to 'geotag' things. With your permission you could use Fire Eagle to mark where your photos were taken and show that on Flickr, or mark the place where you sent an email or wrote a Twitter message.

That way you could see all the things written about Barack Obama written in Sweden or everything written about the credit crunch by people in Nebraska. The way we think about it is that pretty much any service on the internet could be more interesting if it could personalise itself to where you are, and Fire Eagle's there to make that possible.

TR: What really makes Fire Eagle compelling?

TC: Fire Eagle is exciting for a variety of reasons, but two key attributes stand out. Firstly, Fire Eagle is an open platform. It offers web and mobile developers a simple way to build new location-based applications – think maps, movies, local events, mobile apps and more – without having to do the costly and complicated heavy lifting of developing geo-aware applications.

Instead, third-party developers can simply take advantage of Fire Eagle's APIs to make their existing services almost instantly location-aware, or make applications that already capture location-information more valuable to users by allowing them to use that information elsewhere across the internet.

Secondly, Fire Eagle is revolutionary in its treatment of user data. We focused on giving people complete control and feedback on the disclosure and usage of their location information.

Users choose which applications can see their location data, how much detail they're prepared to share with any individual application and they can revoke those permissions at any time. They can also delete their information from the system, or completely hide themselves.

TR: How was the project developed? Was usability testing involved and how?

TC: Fire Eagle started as a collaboration between a small team in Yahoo's London office and Yahoo Research Berkeley. The potential of the idea was recognised by the company and it became an official Brickhouse project in August 2007.

Fire Eagle went through a very deliberate development process and was released as a developer beta in March of 2008, before becoming generally available to developers and consumers in autumn 2008. Fire Eagle's user interface and especially its revolutionary approach to user data was researched and tested significantly during the development and beta phases.


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